Parent disappointment Issues – Discontinuing Lessons
Mark S. M., New York
Sometimes I want to vent all over Facebook or wherever else how disappointing some parents/students can be, but I dare not say anything, because it seems likely to only work against success in cultivating business. Here, though, seems a safe place for me to vent a little.
In one lesson of two students, one student suddenly at the end of June got an opportunity to go to some special sleep-away camp. The other family felt strongly about staying with the regular support system of weekly lessons through the summer, but they felt even more strongly about doing what was best for the kids to keep them in sync.
So they agreed to take July off to ensure that their son didn’t get ahead of the one going to camp. The day the others are supposed to come back, a note that they won’t be able to make it. Then, the same again. Then a note saying they’re taking off the rest of August and think they want to discontinue, and I ask to have a chance to talk to them before a final decision. Can’t be until a week later after dad gets back from a week abroad. Then I don’t hear from him, ask him when we can talk, finally a note that they’ve decided to discontinue.
So the other family took off a month they didn’t want to, muddled along another month not wanting to get far ahead because they valued keeping the kids in sync, only to end up with no group and being two months behind in the ability to make alternate plans for moving forward. Capped by an extra two-week delay that wouldn’t have happened if the dad hadn’t been disingenuous about honoring my request to talk things through when he ended up failing to give me that courtesy.
In another lesson of three, one of whom had contacted me years ago and waited patiently for his daughter to be old enough, then waited patiently again to get a group together, Summer comes, and they pay in full each month, but they just blow off lesson after lesson, taking off basically the whole Summer. They’re building some enormous new house and have all their stuff packed up, and so the SHM they just bought and barely used is inaccessible so they buy another. Then from end of August through September, it’s just the nanny bringing the kid to lesson, each week saying dad’s supposed to be back next week. Last week he tells me they can’t make the lesson. I finally remind him about parental attendance being required and let him know how demoralized his daughter seems each week when I look at the playlist and they’ve forgotten to send hers along and she has to tell me herself that she’s only practiced a few days each week. After a conversation, they tell me today they’re discontinuing. And this is especially sad to me because I think it’s the first time a student is discontinuing when the student has real interest, real ability and isn’t burdened by an excessively busy schedule of extracurricular activities, and affordability of the tuition and materials is not an issue (because these people are wealthy enough to build a huge new house and throw money away on lessons they don’t attend and duplicate SHMs), but the parents work so much that they simply can’t provide the few minutes each week.
Honestly, it makes me mad. Not just to lose students, but to see how people treat other people. The first dad acting with little concern about the group-mate’s family who really wanted to act in the best interests of the group even when it wasn’t what they’d have thought best for their own son, and who disregarded my request to talk things through. Especially the second dad. I’ve seen this sort of thing before, but this is the most egregious example of something I really believe to be true and that maybe some of you will be put off by, but I’m going to say it. Some people just have too much money for their own good. Yeah, it’s great to get their tuition checks and not have to track people down for collections. But it really makes me, well, sick to see people spending all that money and really not caring about whether they get anything out of it, and even more sick to see how much time they must be spending to make all that money only to fail to be able to give a kid — a kid who’s really capable and interested in piano and has plenty of time to kill — the 15 measly minutes a day it would take to support a practice routine. You know, have a great time watching SpongeBob or playing a video game for a few minutes, and hope your kids enjoy all the time you make them spend with the nanny because you’re too busy for them.
I work from home and regret every minute I have to do something other than spend time with my daughter, and I constantly make myself available for her whenever I can. She doesn’t always want me, but that’s her choice. She knows I’m there for her. So really, why even have kids if you’re not going to make some time for them, even for things that you agree and acknowledge could make a significant positive lifelong impact? Why not just work your work and build your houses and enjoy your vacations and leave the kids out of the picture? Because they already feel like they’re out of the picture anyway, sad every week at piano class because dad’s not there with them. I try more and more to be less and less judgmental. But it’s really hard in a situation like this. Be amazed at how restrained I was in my language here compared to the many words that actually went through my mind as I typed this.
No questions, and it’s okay if I get no responses. I’ll feel better simply having gotten someone other than myself to hear my frustrations and to know that at least some fair number of you are likely to be empathetic or at least sympathetic from having been in somewhat similar situations.
Pam K., Nebraska
I am in complete agreement with Mark about summer lessons sometimes being disastrous. Example: a family whose 8-year-old was progressing very well decided to remodel their kitchen. They leaned the drywall and new cabinets against the…piano, for 5 months! Needless to say, the little girl couldn’t practice, and had to discontinue lessons. She was heartbroken, but the parents did nothing to help her practice using another keyboard. I even offered to loan them one of mine and they refused it, saying it might get “ruined”!
I am also discouraged when I don’t even get a courtesy call letting me know a student will be a few minutes late, or isn’t coming, or hasn’t traded lessons with someone.
But, I also have very encouraging, supportive parents and students, who practice, come to lessons regularly and on time, are kind and considerate, and are a joy to teach!
Kerry V., Australia
What I got was that they really highlighted YOUR values. Do you know what they are? I’m sure you do.
We all have different values and priorities. The thing for us is to learn how to work with others regardless of where they may be at. We don’t know the circumstances of anyone, so save yourself from any undue pain.
In this case I would actually work with the nanny! The most important thing here is that the child is ‘getting’ something, at least through the Nanny. We really cannot judge and the judging can cause problems in the long run. What we can do it do our best with what we have.
It may highlight that you want to have this addressed in your policy “communication with your child’s teacher before leaving is required” or words to that affect. And of course as you are going through the policies with your parents, you can discuss this then. You may wish to add or create a policy for summer break expectations too.
Another thing is maybe addressing how you handle the summer breaks. Why charge by the month? Why not in 10 week blocks. This is good in that you only have to worry about payments every 10 weeks, not every 4. You have parents staying much longer, because the payment would dictate this and allows for much better stream line.
Thank you for the venting. We all go through these kinds of issues or needs. Thank you for feeling safe enough to do so in this forum. You are not alone.
Sheh-Mae Ho, Australia
I’ve had a few similar stories but I’ll share one.
I had 2 siblings in a shared class of 3 for some time, and their grandparent attended each lesson with them. I only met their parents at one concert. Both siblings were very keen, admittedly one more than the other, but they put in the practice. They got to the middle of Level 4. Then I noticed a dramatic drop in their ability to even play pieces that they had learnt from the last lesson, along with all the other tasks I had set for them. I was informed that the parents were in the process of renovating and they had no means of accessing their piano, or anyone else’s. The “short, 2-week” renovations dragged on for over 1 month, by which time the older sibling had lost momentum and interest and decided to quit, which meant the younger sibling had to quit too!
It was such a shame because the younger sibling was super keen and came up with beautiful compositions. They told me they wanted to try other musical instruments like the guitar and flute… At least they’re continuing with musical instruments that are more portable!
Andreja S., California
When teaching children we are really dealing with parents and their level of awareness and lifestyle. We need them as a support system, but sometimes they are not functional. At least we are teaching outside of general education- those teachers see much more of unprepared adults and unwilling students.
Teaching a special program like this allows for environment where most students are willing to learn and most parents or guardians are aware people. Sometimes, for various individual reasons, students are not able to stay long enough for us to enable them.
But, if that child has a desire to play- there is a possibility that she will come back to it. Maybe even as an adult, when she will be free to pursue her passion independently.
We are putting a mission of bringing music to people’s lives into a business format and that is not an easy thing to do.
Gordon Harvey, Australia
I appreciate your honesty and your frustration. The behaviour of those parents could well be an indicator of a trend in our culture towards putting the earning of money ahead of other ways of maximizing our quality of life. Remember, though, that as SM teachers we are also attempting to deliberately alter the culture of music learning by requiring parental involvement. Thanks to that, as well as improvements in technology and pedagogy of which SM is a part, you can remind yourself that overall, students today have a better chance of acquiring and retaining music as a lifelong companion. Reminding myself of this is one way that I get over the occasional disappointment, such as parents who aren’t prepared to provide certain forms of support.
For the record, I would like to hereby publicly predict that there will be another shift in the culture over the next 10-20 years which will direct more people towards working less, and choosing to rethink the balance between work and other forms of fulfilment. What other forms of fulfilment, you ask? Well, self-expression through the arts is bound to be amongst them, so I think we should remember that we are pioneers of that move towards wider artistic expression in the community. Most of our students will thank us! Those who don’t yet, probably will a little later. May we bear no grudge towards them so that we are ready to accept those thanks when they are given! Not that I think for a moment that you do, Mark.